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Beyonce performing at Coachella back in 2018. Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella

The economic ripples of events canceled due to COVID-19

Janet Nguyen Mar 11, 2020
Beyonce performing at Coachella back in 2018. Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella

Following widespread fears over the spread of COVID-19, businesses have closed down and major events have been postponed or canceled.

There are now more than 118,000 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide, and more than 4,200 people have died from it. In the U.S., there are more than 1,000 confirmed cases and there have been 31 deaths.

Festivals and conferences like Coachella, SXSW and E3 — which directly support jobs and generate revenue for local businesses by pulling in tens of thousands of attendees — provide a substantial economic boost to the communities they’re in.

Across the U.S., the cancellation of these events and others has already hurt the communities that rely on them. Here’s a snapshot of their economic footprint in recent years.


Attendees at E3 in 2019. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images for E3/Entertainment Software Association)

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, a gaming convention attended by tens of thousands of attendees each year, was due to take place in Los Angeles from June 9–11.

“Our team will be reaching out directly to exhibitors and attendees with information about providing full refunds,” the Entertainment Software Association said in a statement after E3’s cancellation. “We are also exploring options with our members to coordinate an online experience to showcase industry announcements and news in June 2020.”

In 2017, E3 generated $75 million for Los Angeles, up from $40 million in 2013, according to the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.


Beyonce onstage at Coachella in 2018. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella )

The yearly annual music and arts festival, which takes place in Indio, California, had been scheduled for April 10–12 and April 17–19, but rescheduled to Oct. 9–11 and Oct. 16–18. 

Goldenvoice, the organizer, is also postponing the country music festival Stagecoach until October.

Together, the two events generated an estimated $704 million in economic activity in 2016, according to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.


The singer-songwriter Shamir performs at an NPR showcase during the 2015 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SXSW)

South by Southwest, a massive film, music and tech conference, has been canceled for the first time in its 34-year history. The event was set to take place from March 13–22.

In 2019, SXSW had a $355.9 million impact on the economy of Austin, Texas, according to Greyhill Advisors, which conducted a study for the conference.

Byron Mowery, the owner of a graphic design shop in Austin, told Marketplace’s Andy Uhler that losing the business from the cancellation of SXSW is a shock to the system.

“We stand to not write up $75,000 in business just for this month based on South by, which is huge for us; we normally double, triple sometimes quadruple our monthly net based just on South by,” Mowery said.

On Monday the festival laid off a third of its staff, about 60 people, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The Tucson Festival of Books

A view of the 2013 Tucson Festival of Books. (Wikimedia Commons)

The event, which attracts more than 100,000 bookworms to the University of Arizona campus, has now been canceled after more than 100 authors pulled out.

“This has deeply affected our author panel schedule and we anticipate more changes and cancellations will be forthcoming,” festival staff said in a statement. “This leaves us with little or no way to plan for author panels or to communicate effectively with the public about those changes.”

The festival has an estimated economic impact of between $3.5 million and $4.5 million on the Tucson community each year.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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